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Friday, March 7, 2014
How low can they go?

By Chris Forsberg

The Boston Celtics own the fourth-worst record in basketball and endured one of their ugliest losses of the season Wednesday night. At this point, spring training baseball might be more than enough to hijack the attention of the casual local hoops fan.

Even die-hard Celtics supporters might be content to hibernate for the final 21 games of the regular season and rise on May 20 when the annual pingpong-a-palooza will determine where the Celtics will pick in this year's NBA draft.

Recalling those fleeting visions of Tim Duncan or Kevin Durant in green, you know by now that the NBA determines its draft order by a lottery process. Teams with the worst records have the best chance at a top spot, but those pingpong balls have a mind of their own.

It's worth noting that the worst record in basketball hasn't landed the top pick in the draft since 2004 (Orlando Magic). In fact, over the past nine years, here's a quick rundown of where the team that emerged with the top pick ranked in the final standings:

2013: Cleveland Cavaliers (3rd-worst record)
2012: New Orleans Hornets (tied-3rd worst)
2011: Los Angeles Clippers (8th worst)
2010: Washington Wizards (5th worst)
2009: Los Angeles Clippers (tied-2nd worst)
2008: Chicago Bulls (9th worst)
2007: Portland Trail Blazers (6th worst)
2006: Toronto Raptors (5th worst)
2005: Milwaukee Bucks (6th worst)

Over the past decade, that averages out to teams with the fifth-worst record in basketball claiming the top spot.

That's part of the reason the Celtics haven't been afraid to win games this season. As hard as teams try to lose to better their draft position, the pingpong balls often have a way of scorning them (as the 1996-97 and 2006-07 Celtics know too well).

But it's undeniable that the lower you finish in the regular-season standings, the more likely you are to have a decent pick (even if you get leapfrogged along the way).

Here's what we know about the 2014 draft lottery: The bottom two positions are likely cemented. Milwaukee is 12-48, and even after gutting its roster and with the potential it might not win another game this season, Philadelphia (15-46) will be hard-pressed to make up the 2-game difference on the Bucks.

The standings are a bit more cluttered from there. The Orlando Magic (19-44) own the third-worst record in basketball and have a two-game cushion over the Celtics (including three games in the loss column).

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